Excavations in the City of David have revealed a pyramid-shaped staircase believed to belong to a first-century podium. The discovery was made along the street that runs from the Pool of Siloam up to the Temple Mount.
From the Israel Antiquities Authority:
According to archaeologists Nahshon Szanton and Dr. Joe Uziel, who direct of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The structure exposed is unique. To date such a structure has yet to be found along the street in the numerous excavations that have taken place in Jerusalem and to the best of our knowledge outside of it. For this reason, its exact use remains enigmatic. The structure is built along the street in a place that is clearly visible from afar by passers-by making their way to the Temple. We believe the structure was a kind of monumental podium that attracted the public’s attention when walking on the city’s main street. It would be very interesting to know what was said there 2,000 years ago. Were messages announced here on behalf of the government? Perhaps news or gossip, or admonitions and street preaching – unfortunately we do not know. Bliss and Dickie, two British archaeologists who discovered a small portion of this structure about 100 years ago, mistakenly thought these were steps that led into a house that was destroyed. They would certainly be excited if they could come back today and see it completely revealed”.
We know from rabbinic sources there were “stones” that were used for public purposes during the Second Temple period. For example, one source cites the “auction block” in connection with the street: “[a master] will not set up a market stand and put them (slaves) on the auction block” (Sifra, BeHar 6). In the Mishnah and Talmud the “Stone of Claims” is mentioned as a place that existed in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period: “Our Rabbis taught: There was a Stone of Claims in Jerusalem: whoever lost an article repaired thither, and whoever found an article did likewise. The latter stood and proclaimed, and the former submitted his identification marks and received it back. And in reference to this we learnt: Go forth and see whether the Stone of Claims is covered” (Bava Metzia 28:B).
On Thursday (3.9), at the City of David Studies of Ancient Jerusalem’s 16th Annual Conference that will be open to the public, Nahshon Szanton and Dr. Joe Uziel will present their findings from the excavation and the different interpretations regarding the nature of the podium. According to them, “Given the lack of a clear archaeological parallel to the stepped-structure, the purpose of the staircase remains a mystery. It is certainly possible the rabbinical sources provide valuable information about structures, such as this, although for the time being there is no definitive proof.”
Information about the conference can be found on the City of David website: www.cityofdavid.org.il.
The story can also be read at the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz, and the Times of Israel.
HT: Joseph Lauer